Controversy started and violent death ended the short career as sheriff of Lester M. Wood.
Wood, a lifelong resident of Vancouver, was mortally wounded Sunday morning, May 22, 1927, as he led a raiding party on a bootlegging still in the Dole Valley area of north-central Clark County. His death came less than seven months after his election in a stormy campaign that involved the Ku Klux Klan.
Born April 12, 1894, in Vancouver, Wood attended Vancouver High School. A brilliant speaker, he had led the Vancouver High School forensic team and for three straight years was declared the debating champion of Southwest Washington.
In the autumn of 1926, Wood became the Democratic nominee for sheriff, but was not accorded much of a chance at election. First, he would be running against R.E. McCrite, popular Vancouver police chief, who had easily won the republican nomination. Second, in the mid-1920s in Clark County, a Democrat had little chance of winning any office.
However, just after the primary election, McCrite suddenly withdrew as a candidate after charges were aired that he had lost his U.S. citizenship in 1906 over desertion from the army. The county Republicans desperate to come up with an alternate candidate picked a man who had ties to the Ku Klux Klan.
As a result, on Nov. 2, 1926, Wood became the only democrat elected in the entire county, beating his Republican opponent, J.W. Adams, by 1,925 votes.
Wood’s death at the hands of bootlegger Luther Baker, who was later hanged for the crime, sent the entire county into mourning. Memorial services were held at several churches. Typical was the First Christian Church in Camas, where Wood was praised as a hero and martyr.
“Sheriff Wood died for the laws of our county and in fidelity to his oath of office,” the speaker said.
When funeral service were held at First Baptist Church in Vancouver, where Wood had been Sunday school superintendent, an estimated 2,000 mourners crowded into the building.